|Born||5 Apr 1896|
|Died||11 Nov 1945|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseDixie Kiefer was born in Blackfoot, Idaho, United States, on 4 Apr 1896. He attended high school in Lincoln, Nebraska and was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1915. He was a member of the Academy Class of 1919 but along with many of his classmates, he graduated 6 Jun 1918, 177th in a class of 199. As a newly commissioned Ensign, he served in World War I with the destroyer force based in Brest, France. Following his return to the United States, he had duty aboard USS Pennsylvania and USS Nevada until Jun 1922 when he reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. He was designated as a naval aviator 26 Dec 1922.
ww2dbaseFrom Apr 1923 until Jan 1926 Kiefer served with Observation Squadron 1, attached to the cruiser USS Aroostook, and with Observation Squadron 2 on the battleship USS California. Following 18 months as an Instructor at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, he returned to the academy for instruction in aeronautical engineering at the Navy's Postgraduate School and also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Master of Science degree in Jun 1929. In Oct 1929 he was assigned to his first aircraft carrier serving with Scouting Squadron 3 on the USS Lexington and then in May 1930, he was transferred to the Navy's other fleet carrier, USS Saratoga.
ww2dbaseFor the remainder of the interwar years, Kiefer served in several posts that were all related to Naval aviation. He was on staff at the Fleet Air Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he served in the aviation squadron aboard USS Memphis, and he was an inspector of Naval Aircraft at the US Aircraft Corporation, Pratt and Whitney Division. In May 1938, now a Commander, he returned to sea as executive officer of the airship tender USS Wright. On 7 Dec 1941, Wright was 3 days out of Midway on her way to Pearl Harbor, missing the Japanese attack by one day.
ww2dbaseOn 11 Feb 1942 Kiefer was transferred to the carrier USS Yorktown (Yorktown-class) as executive officer. He sailed with Yorktown on the raids to Salamaua and Lae in New Guinea in Mar 1942 and in the Battle of the Coral Sea two months later. Yorktown was badly damaged at Coral Sea and returned to Pearl Harbor hoping for an extended stay in the Navy Yard to tend to her repairs but the urgencies of war would not allow it. After only three days at Pearl Harbor, Yorktown sailed for Midway. The ensuing Battle of Midway handed the Japanese Navy its first decisive defeat in 350 years but the greatest loss for the Americans was Kiefer's carrier, Yorktown. As executive officer, Kiefer had the responsibility for damage control operations both at Coral Sea and at Midway, but the combined damage was too great and Yorktown had to be abandoned.
ww2dbaseFollowing these actions, Kiefer was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for "exceptionally meritorious service ... (he) contributed greatly toward bringing the ship and her air group to a high state of morale, efficiency and readiness for battle exhibited by the Yorktown in her splendid contribution to the victory attained by our forces in the actions comprising the Battle of the Coral Sea ..."
ww2dbaseHe was also awarded the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the USS Yorktown in preparations for, during and after action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway, on June 4, 1942. ... When the stricken vessel was being gutted by raging fires, he, being unable to obtain rescue breathing apparatus from his own smoke filled cabin, entered the photographic laboratory, which was a flaming inferno from burning films, and conducted the first fire-fighting there. Later, while directing the abandonment of the Yorktown, Commander Kiefer, in lowering an injured man into a life raft, burned his hands so severely that when he himself went over the side and descended by line, he was unable to support his own weight. In the resultant fall he struck the ship's armor belt and suffered a compound fracture of the foot and ankle. Despite acute pain, he gallantly swam alongside of and pushed a life raft toward a rescuing destroyer until he became so completely exhausted that he had to be pulled out of the water ..."
ww2dbaseFollowing the loss of the Yorktown, Kiefer was hospitalized for 7 months until Jan 1943. During this period, he was promoted to Captain and he assumed command of the Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kansas before being appointed Head of Aviation at the Naval Academy in the spring of 1943. He then returned to Kansas where he was Chief of Staff and then acting Chief of Naval Air Primary Training Command, Kansas City, Kansas.
ww2dbaseIn April 1944, Kiefer took charge of the final fitting out of the newly launched Essex-class carrier USS Ticonderoga. He assumed command of that ship when she was commissioned 8 May 1944. On Ticonderoga's shakedown cruise to Trinidad in the summer of 1944, the ship hosted several civilians from Twentieth Century-Fox, along with their cameras, who took color movie images of all manners of routine activities aboard the carrier. These images were later woven together with similar footage taken aboard Jocko Clark's Yorktown (Essex-class) and released in Dec 1944 as the docudrama "The Fighting Lady." Kiefer's presence in that film went by the name of "Captain Dixie."
ww2dbaseAt the time of commissioning, Ticonderoga embarked Air Group 80 that went on to inflict heavy damage to the Japanese between Nov 1944 and Jan 1945, most notably on 12 Jan 1945 off French Indochina (Vietnam) during the Raid into the South China Sea. On 21 Jan 1945 off Formosa (Taiwan), Ticonderoga was struck twice by Japanese suicide planes and badly damaged. The first plane plunged through the flight deck and exploded with great force in the hangar deck, causing raging fires. The second plane struck the face of the island and splattered the bridge with thousands of shrapnel splinters.
ww2dbaseSeverely wounded with 65 separate wounds and a broken arm, Kiefer directed activities in his heavily damaged ship. Ticonderoga maneuvered independently to assist the firefighting efforts. Drawing on lessons learned aboard Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway, an intentional five-degree list was put on the ship that, along with several high-speed turns, dumped flaming gasoline overboard and allowed crews to push bombs and burning aircraft over the side more easily. Also badly injured on the bridge was Ticonderoga's executive officer, Commander William Burch, so much of the responsibility to conn the ship fell to the navigator, Commander Irwin Chase. Kiefer remained on the bridge for twelve hours refusing treatment until all injured crew members received care. For his actions in command of Ticonderoga, Captain Kiefer was awarded the Silver Star.
ww2dbaseDixie Kiefer was enormously popular with his men. While executive officer of the Yorktown, on a sweltering day near the equator he earned the lifetime admiration of one sailor simply by bringing him an ice cream cone (chocolate). Later, at the end of Ticonderoga's shakedown cruise to Trinidad, Captain Kiefer gave another sailor a one-day release from a disciplinary period of confinement so he could attend the big enlisted party at the Scotland Bay fleet recreation facility. Many felt as though they would walk through fire for Dixie Kiefer – and in the end, many actually did.
ww2dbaseOn the other hand, it is likely that Captain Kiefer would have been awarded something higher than the Silver Star for his actions aboard Ticonderoga had there not been persistent murmurings around fleet headquarters about possibly convening a Board of Inquiry or worse. The ship's second in command, William Burch, received the Navy Cross for his actions following Ticonderoga's kamikaze attack compared to the captain's Silver Star. The murmurings about Captain Kiefer focused on why fleet directives were not followed with Ticonderoga not already being at general quarters as the attack developed and why the commanding officer and executive officer were both on the unarmored bridge instead of in the armored pilot house and secondary conn respectively, as was required at general quarters. Further, word was getting out that it may have been the navigator, Irwin Chase, who, over the objections of the captain, actually gave the orders for the high-speed turns that dumped the hangar deck fire overboard. In the end, the Navy decided to rely on Dixie Kiefer's strengths rather than dwell on what may (or may not) have been his shortcomings. His injuries did more than any Board of Inquiry or Court Martial could have done anyway, and without the adverse effects on morale. Further, Halsey had been on a much hotter hot seat for leaving the San Bernardino Strait unguarded at Leyte Gulf and for leading the fleet into Typhoon Cobra and nothing happened to him either.
ww2dbaseKiefer returned to the United States where his injuries landed him in the hospital for an extended period once again. He was promoted to Commodore and on 19 Apr 1945 he reported for duty as Commander, Naval Air Bases, First Naval District, with additional duty as Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. While serving in that capacity, Commodore Kiefer was a passenger in a transport aircraft that crashed into Mount Beacon along the New York's Hudson River on the foggy morning of 11 Nov 1945. Dixie Kiefer and all aboard were killed. He was still wearing a cast on his arm from the injuries received aboard Ticonderoga 10 months earlier. Dixie Kiefer was buried in Arlington Cemetery with full military honors on 16 Nov 1945.
ww2dbaseIn addition to the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal and the Silver Star, Commodore Kiefer was awarded the Purple Heart with gold star, the World War I Victory Medal with Patrol Clasp, the American Defense Medal with Fleet Clasp, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with seven battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal with one bronze star.
Air Group Eighty Veterans
Arlington National Cemetery
Autobiography of a World War Two Tailhooker by Donald W. Monson, Capt USNR (Ret) Trafford Publishing; 2005
Carrier Warfare in the Pacific by E.T. Woolridge (editor) Smithsonian Institute Press; 1993
"The Fighting Lady" Twentieth Century-Fox Docudrama, 1944; Louis de Rochemont, Producer
"The High Intensity Life of Patrick Fleming" by Walter J. Boyne in AIR FORCE Magazine, March 2011
USS Hornet Museum
"The Indestructible Man: The Story of Dixie Kiefer" by David Levine; Hudson Valley Magazine, 1 Nov 2015
The Indestructible Man: The True Story of World War II Hero "Captain Dixie" by Don Keith and David Rocco; Erin Press, 2017
"Lucky Bag"; Yearbook of the United States Naval Academy, 1918
Military Times; Hall of Valor – Citations-Medals-Awards
Researcher @ Large
USS Ticonderoga Cruise Book, 1961
USS Ticonderoga CV-CVA-CVS 14; Turner Publishing
USS Ticonderoga Veterans Association
Time Magazine; July 23, 1945 – "World Battlefronts: Captain Dixie and the Ti"
United States Naval History and Heritage Command
Unofficial US Navy Site; Ticonderoga memoir 21 Jan 1945
"The Viper's Sting – Fighting Squadron Eighty in WWII" by Steven M. Blake; Tailhook Association: "The Hook" Magazine, Spring 1986
Wildcats to Hellcats by Zeke Cormier, Wally Schirra, and Phil Wood, with Barrett Tilman; Phalanx Publishing, 1995
Last Major Revision: Jun 2019
Dixie Kiefer Timeline
|5 Apr 1896||Dixie Kiefer was born in Blackfoot, Idaho, United States.|
|6 Jun 1918||Dixie Kiefer graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, United States.|
|26 Dec 1922||Dixie Kiefer was was designated as a naval aviator.|
|11 Feb 1942||Dixie Kiefer was transferred to USS Yorktown as executive officer.|
|21 Jan 1945||Dixie Kiefer sustained injuries aboard USS Ticonderoga during an attack by a Japanese special attack aircraft at about 120 miles southeast of Taiwan.|
|19 Apr 1945||Dixie Kiefer was made Commander, Naval Air Bases, First Naval District in Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, United States, with additional duty as Commanding Officer of the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, United States.|
|11 Nov 1945||Dixie Kiefer passed away during an air crash on Mount Beacon, New York, United States.|
|16 Nov 1945||Dixie Kiefer was buried in Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, United States with full military honors.|
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